Sleep came easy last night due to the travel and poor sleeping the night before, with our oatmeal breakfast complete, day packs loaded and our hip boots on we started our trek across the softest mattress you could ever walk on, the tundra. We got up on that same hill and started calling, I spotted something black on a ridge about 350 yards away. Could it be a bull moose already, throwing up my binoculars to give me vision similar to a eagle’s, I spot a black bear. Granted it was not our primary species but I did have a tag for black bear. After watching the bear for about 10 minutes as it was eating blue berries, we both decided it was a rather good one. With the wind helping us, we snuck into about 150 yards. I was now in a position where I would have to shoot standing up but with the bear still eating berries on the open ridge we move to the side to where I could shoot sitting down. At the end of the willows with their leaves already a bright yellow shining in the sun, there was no bear in sight. I frantically searched through my binoculars but it was gone! How could that be, in only a matter of a minute it disappeared. I figured it must have crossed over to the other side, so I sneaked up to the ridge and as I neared the top with no bear around, I was thinking how could I screw up such an easy opportunity at my first bear ever! To my surprise though just as that thought was complete, I could see the back of a bear headed over the ridge at just 25 yards. With its head down I could not tell if it was quartering to or away though. Waiting patiently, hoping it didn’t notice the weird shape that just appeared out in the open, I was able to determine it was a quartering to me shot. Not wasting a second I put the cross hairs just in front of the shoulder and let one 165 grain trophy bonded tip fly towards its destination. It hit where it was supposed to and the bear did a flip and spin all in one motion and started sprinting for cover but before I could get another round in the chamber the bear reached the 20 yard point and did one more flip into its final destination. I walked a few yards to find my dad who was smiling, he was worried that I missed not seeing me headed towards the bear but to him but I quickly told him that she was already down for good. Since the only other time I had approached a shot bear was when I was like 10 years old that my dad was finishing off from being hit by a car in front of our house I was nervous you could say. Slowly approaching it I touched the gun barrel to its eye three times just to make sure.
As I walked up to the bear however was my first time experiencing some major ground shrinkage! Since it was in the tundra, the legs looked really short and a big belly near the ground, plus the ears were off to the sides somewhat but it ended up being about a 2001b sow. Yes, I am happy with her just couldn’t believe how bad we miss judged her. Her front teeth seemed like they were wore down cause they were just barely above the gum line (1/16th”) so maybe she was an older bear???
After getting the bear skinned and back to camp we headed out for moose. Not far from camp we had a bull answer my calling. Concealed in our spot along the lake we could hear the bull walking in water not far from our position. Peering into the thick fog expecting the bull to appear as if a ghost from nowhere we waited. He continued to grunt his way towards us. Then as soon as it started it stopped, the tundra was quiet again. No grunts, no raking, not even steps in the water, how could that be he was coming right to us. After waiting for a long period we could hear steps in the water again and figured he turned around. We immediately head to the other lake to try and catch him before he gets away. Upon reaching the shore of the second lake, we spot a cow in the water but no bull. She is constantly staring into a group of trees that is between the lakes though, I figure that is where the bull is at so we sneak back away from the lake to see down through the trees. Sure enough I spot a moose shoulder in the spruce. With a little bit of maneuvering we soon have a bull at 350 yards facing head on to us in the open. As I was glassing him up trying to see if he would meet dad’s minimum goal of 50”, he tries to find a position to shoot from. Problem is when he sits in the tundra he sinks in to where there is no shot over the bushes. I have dad get directly behind me and I use our canoe paddle as a moose antler and walk up to a small spruce 50 yards in front of us. He tries to use the tree as a rest but now the wind is starting the blow and it is only the size of a man’s thumb so it is moving considerably for a 300 yard shot. He is telling me to shoot him but I want dad to get his big bull so I don’t even grab for my gun expecting dad to get stable and shoot any second. The whole time I’m judging the rack, I am no moose judging expert but was trying my best. I had him in the 48-52” range and told him it was his choice but I think he should be 50”. Just as dad pulls his gun down to move positions, the bull turns and gives a near broadside shot, I say Shoot him NOW! But nothing, he starts to turn and walk away, I say shoot quick, shoot now! Nothing. After pulling his gun down to adjust he couldn’t find the bull in the scope in time and it was only a couple seconds before that bull walked out of our hunt forever. No worries, its only the first day we are still good to go.
Later that night we set up to watch two different areas near the base lake.
Dad had seen a cow walk by and I seen a cow and calf. I never heard a moose make this sound before but I thought of it to be similar to a elk “bark”. She seen some of my movement but couldn’t place me so she let out this tremendously loud bubbly, gurgling bellow. She did it a couple times and I figured it was a show me you are a moose or I am running sound, so I raked so alders with my canoe paddle and that instantly calmed her down. She even meandered towards me for a few steps then turned and headed into a secluded pond surrounded by a thick batch of willows and alders.
That night we enjoyed one of the greatest sunsets I have ever seen but do to being distracted by the cow and calf I didn’t get my camera out in time and it was soon over.
Also, that evening I spotted a eagle land in a tree top near me, the eagle had the strangest coloring I have ever seen. It had a 4” with band on the end of its tail but also a white circle in the center of each wing. The circles were about 7-8” in diameter and could only be seen when he flew.
With a good night’s rest sleeping on Alaska’s great pillow, we awoke to fog so thick again a person couldn’t see 30 yards. We set up to do some calling but this morning there was no response. After a while we decide to split up, dad stayed there, I headed to the old river channel just down the lake. Finally around 12 the fog cleared and not hearing any responses except my stomach growling I head back to pick up dad for lunch. Just as I reach the lake shore and see him walking towards the lake, I spot two moose at the far end of the lake past camp. With my glass, I was able to see it was a small bull and cow. I signal to dad about the moose but he didn’t care too much cause it wasn’t a big bull. We continued East along the shore as the moose continued their way West on the far shore. They soon disappeared behind a point that sticks out into the lake. Thinking they were gone, we got rather casual but dad instantly spots the cow as she reappears on the near side of the point. They did not have a clue we were sitting there watching them feed in the brush and shallows of the bay. Dad is 63 and we both knew going into this hunt that I would do all the packing due to his age and back.
Knowing this if we had to shoot two bulls in the last 3 or 4 days of the hunt I wouldn’t be able to pack out over two thousand pounds of moose if they were any distance from either of the two lakes that the float planes could land on, I decide after about 5 minutes that I would shoot the small bull since it didn’t involve a pack out except for the boat trip across the lake. Dad talked to me to make sure I wanted to do this, because he knew that I wanted to shoot a moose with the big pallmated brow tines but I would rather see him reach his goal knowing I will hopefully have many years yet to achieve my goal. Getting set up with my canoe paddle as shooting sticks and my back/shoulder against the bank I was steady as could be. With dad ready on the binoc’s, I let the first round from my 300 wsm fly across the water, instantly dad says “you hit low” I adjust and let the second round loose and get the response “you hit him, shoot again”, with the third round same response except dad says he’s going down. I am starting to get excited now knowing this is my fourth and final round, I don’t want him to reach deep water or the thick brush and I shoot too fast with my thoughts on the reload more than hitting the bull. As I am scrambling to reload my x-bolt, dad blurts out “he’s down”…pause…. “no, he’s getting up”….pause… “nope, he is down for good!” With a few high fives and cheering, we talk about how long of a shot it was. It was by far my longest shot ever and I feel is a trophy in itself. The shot was 550 yards and upon arriving at the bull we seen they were the same height and only 8” apart horizontally. The bullets did their job with both passing through and he only traveled 15-20 yards.
Just to the right of where the water disappears behind my dad is where I shot from, 550 yards.
After a few pictures we started cutting him up, about half way through we could hear the super cub on floats taking off, we had missed Randy in all the excitement when he stopped by to pick up my bear. With a wave and a dip of the wing in return he was headed off to the camp with the guys from Tennessee and their first moose on the ground.
Well it was halfway through the second day and both of my tags were filled, being twice as long of a hunt for me than my first trip to Alaska I was happy After getting him back to camp, we didn’t see any moose later that night.
In the morning I headed out with dad to be the caller but no luck. At lunch we headed to camp, I had to stick around due to in Alaska when you transfer you game to someone else you both have to sign and date a form. After dad was gone Randy landed but this time it was with one of the Beavers. He got my moose and bear loaded then headed over the Tennessee camp to pick up their second moose! While dad was gone, I picked a few blue berries right in camp, had some for myself and saved some as a surprise for dad.
I also filtered some water, cleaned up a bit, then fried up some moose tenderloins for supper and lunch the next day. We both seen some Tundra swans cruise by just before dark, it was the same every day, there must have been a roosting lake to the northeast of us not too far away.
This morning we headed to the smaller of two lakes on the south side of camp. Headed out while it was still dark to attempt catching a bull just as darkness gave way to daylight. Upon arrival it was deadly quiet with the heavy fog again, searching for a place to sit I did however find my first ever moose shed! I was super excited as was dad.
He is a lucky guy cause each spring he goes with mom to search for moose sheds and they have found several antlers with four sets I believe. I am not exactly lucky when it comes to sheds, later in the day I searched for the other side but my little bit of luck had run out. During the day we could hear a pack of wolves howling a mile behind us causing me to wish I would have purchased a wolf tag too. The only thing we seen that day though was some diver ducks and a couple flocks of Sandhill cranes as they circle through the sky looking as if they landed in a beer pond a couple hours earlier.
As darkness approached and no sign of moose coming to my calls we decided to leave a few minutes early to check out the secluded pond near the main lake thinking there may be a bull checking out the cow. As we approach the pond, moose sounds and splashing could be heard. Our excitement level started to escalate with the thought of this is it! We soon spot the cow, where the bull now, she is only 50 yards away he can’t be far. Suddenly our hopes crashed seeing the calf step out, knowing with it around likely no bull will be nearby. She seen us move slightly then charged across the pond causing a wake to extend in front of her nearly 10” high as if she was a power boat. Reaching the far shore she stopped with calf at her side and us sneaking away to let them enjoy the peaceful evening.
This morning we headed to the North to what we call the “Rim”, it’s a point at which the ridge we were on drops off about 60-70’ down to a large flat surrounding the Yukon River.
Wind was perfect for us to sneak along the rim glassing and searching for moose. We could see it was very “moosey” looking with beaver dam’s, streams, willows, alders and spruce all mixed together creating some ideal habitat. With a decent amount of moose sign we thought this could be when he punched his tag. After glassing and calling over many miles of country we did not see one moose, somewhat of a disappointment for both of us. The one highlight for the day was the hundreds of blue berries I ate along the way and we got to see our first ever ptarmigan, the belly was just starting to turn white.
That evening found us calling along the old river off the main lake but no success.
As we paddled our way back to camp, rain started to fall from the overcast sky. With just seconds to spare we got underneath our lean-to for cooking as the rain turned heavy. Rain continued to fall as we hit the sacks, then through the night.
Waking up in the morning I discovered my sleeping pad, bag and tent floor on my half was soaked! With multiple days to go till pickup, you could say I was concerned. The thought of sleeping in all my clothes and hip boots to stay warm at night was not pleasurable. We stayed in the tent trying to come up with a game plan to get my stuff dry, finally the clouds parted at one that afternoon allowing the sun to shine. The problem was part of the tarp under the tent stuck out far enough to collect tent runoff. We pulled the tarp out and laid it over some willows, propped up the tent floor from underneath with some bushes to allow air flow, then turned on the cook stove in the tent and closed it up to trap the heat. Luckily 1 hour later my sleeping bag, pad and tent floor were dry. After replacing the tarp and all of our gear we were reading to hunt the evening.
We decided to hunt near a funnel of spruce where we felt the moose traveled off the east end of the main lake, no grunts but did hear a moose walking in the big lake south of camp just before dark. We are headed there tomorrow morning. A Rainbow was visible as rain was approaching tonight made for a neat picture but no treasure (bull moose) at the end.
Arrived at the lake just as daylight broke, no fog or wind, should be a good day.
As we approached the water line to see the whole lake, we spotted a cow to our right about 200 yards away. She continued to feed for about 20 minutes till she caught our scent drifting out over the lake, causing her to quickly disappear into the willows. An hour later dad spotted a cow opposite of us on the lake, then a calf following behind a couple minutes later. We stayed there and called from that position till dark. No more moose sightings, just diver ducks with light brown heads, white belly’s and white on their wings when flying. Another discovery today was leather boots do not work on the tundra, my feet were wet and ice cold after one day. Tomorrow will find us back in hip boots even though they are very loud.
We headed south of camp again today. We had a bull answer my calls and sounded like he was headed right for us but after 30 minutes of grunting and raking his antlers he went quiet and disappeared. At the time I thought I had messed up the situation with bad calling or something but later in the hunt we figured he was probably with cows already and wouldn’t leave them for us. Watched the diver ducks fatten up on insects for their trip south again but that was the climax of our excitement.
That evening we headed to the old river bed again but the only thing we heard was a cow moose moaning like crazy across the lake just before dark until well after we were in bed. We had quite a few swans fly close over our heads tonight along with a large flock of ducks we figured were bluebills by the loud wind sounds they make while flying.
September 24th, last full day in moose camp
Mid bite of my oatmeal I heard a moose in the lake across from camp. I cow called immediately, we heard the bull grunt immediately! This is it, I run to get dad’s gun, not wanting to waste time looking for dad’s shells, I grab my gun both of which are loaded. We walk out to the shore and with barely enough light, I get glimpses of moose walking the shore towards camp, twice I spotted the paddles of a big bull.
With our hearts pounding faster and louder every second, we continue to get grunts and raking from him. I lose track of him but it sounds like he is headed right for us in camp. Meanwhile we can now hear a second bull grunting and raking in the small lake south of camp. Could it really be today, the last day? After a few minutes bull number one stops answering, he walked right past us and is headed to the big lake south of camp! I put my gun back grab some spare shells for dad and we book it out of camp trying to gain lost ground. Wind was absolutely the worst possible direction for bull #2 but I figured we better see if he will stay at the lake long enough for us to catch him cause we could still hear him walking in the water. Just a couple minutes later we pop out and he is gone as expected. With a 90 degree turn we head east hoping to catch bull #1 arriving at the lake. Just as we stop, I let out a cow call, instantly the bull answers by grunting then tearing up a tree for about 30 seconds just out of sight. Tension is starting to build, dad is trying to get a steady rest in the tundra, my eyes are peeled watching for movement. Bam, I spot a moose broadside but can’t see the head, attempting to get dad pointed in the correct direction it disappears. Could it be the bull is gone already? Just then I spot a second moose but it’s a cow, she goes in the willows just as the massive monarch shows himself. Heart is racing mach 2 at this point, not even sure if I am still breathing, dad’s dream is going to come true! I point him out and dad gets the cross hairs on him just as he turns, I try to reposition…. Boom… the 270wsm fires. Immediately I spot him broadside in an opening, point him out to dad…. Boom… second shot away. He whirls around and gives a broadside again, I try to reposition again and dad fires as my binoculars are down. I quickly relocate him as he is running left to right paralleling the far lake shore 350 yards away. Attempting to get dad on him again I could see dad’s barrel is just a few feet behind the bull as its swinging in search mode. Just as it’s located, the bull disappears behind some birch trees with their leaves standing out bright as could be against the multiple spruce as a background. A smile instantly breaks my face thinking dad just got at least one maybe up to three rounds into the bull he has been wanting for 40 plus years. I look at him but see a face of concern not happiness. He says he is not sure of any of the shots and says he feels that every shot missed its mark, he has said that before only to find the perfect shot has been made. I head back to camp, retrieve pack frame, food, drinks, game sacks etc… get back to dad and find out another bull just passed by him one or two minutes prior to my return grunting and raking the trees on the path of the previous bull. That’s ok, it has now been 45 minutes and we head to where the shots were aimed. Talk about difficult tracking, I had a hard time finding where he exited the trees but eventually did and where he whirled, bad news was no blood or hair. No worries, they are a big animal and can absorb many grains of lead. Dad skipped ahead during this time to where we last saw him but again no blood or hair. After a short period we eventually lost the trail in the tundra due to the plants recovering to natural position after you lift up your feet even from a 1500 pound moose. We eventually had to give up on the trail cause there was so many tracks and with no blood to distinguish it was a lost cause. We started doing circles and search patterns in the direction he headed with zero luck. Rain then decided to make it even more difficult and helped the realization soak in that he likely missed. I had to walk away for awhile cause I didn’t dare see my dad, I felt awful for him. At first I felt I knew what he was going through due to missing easy shots at large animals and losing wounded bulls but then I realized I am not even 40 years old. I haven’t been dreaming of taking a 50” plus moose for 40 years, I have been very successful in harvesting some large bucks and bulls in my young hunting career, I have not had to wait like he has. I already have a 50, 54 and now a bull winkle of a moose, now I feel even worse for him. He talked to me about it later but I could tell he was hurting inside and will be for a long, long time. Going into this hunt we knew it was probably his last chance but now it was really hitting home for both of us. There was not a word I could say to make him feel better, it was a rather bitter end to a great hunt.
There was a funny moment though in all of this, that morning I decided to wear two pairs of socks but when I put my hip boots on the outsides of my feet were hurting bad, the pain got lost in the excitement though but after we calmed down and were enjoying our lunch I looked at my boots and noticed something weird. They were on the wrong feet! Dad thought that was rather funny and was nice to put some humor in our sour moment. For 5 hours they were on the wrong foot, talk about having a “blond” moment!
Dad attempted to hunt that evening but with rain falling he came back to camp, minutes later it stopped again and we decided to have a fire on the beach to end our trip. It was a good evening, got to see a decent sunset, couple close ups of tundra swans buzzing us, some ducks and a few laughs of past hunts and friends.
I talked to Robin around 9 to see what our pickup time was, she said around 2 or so cause the fog had been staying until after 12 the previous 4 days. We deflated the boat, packed up our kitchen gear and moved it all down to the lake shore. With about 3 or 4 hours to pick up we flopped down in the tent for some rest, around noon I said well I think I will start to take our clothes down and start on the tent because it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that beaver drop out of the sky any second and we don’t want to make them wait for us. Just two seconds later, I could hear the beaver approaching our lake, we started scrambling like our boots were on fire. Just as Boris through the last of our gear on the plane we were stuffing the tent stakes into the bag with the tent, not bad for just a couple minutes We had to wait for Randy to show up though with the super cub because the lake was too small to take both of us and all our gear at once. Randy then lands a minute later load up his plane, we all jump in and we taxi to our take off points.
We are only in the air for a short period then we descend to the mighty Yukon river, again the beaver lands as if we were never in the air. Shortly Randy and dad pull up next to us on the bank. Boris, feeling a little ambitious decides he will jump off the float into a couple inches of water, well he doesn’t stop when the water ends though, his boots sink into about 15” of muck, instantly losing his balance he falls backwards and lands in the water! Just so you know I did not laugh even though it was rather funny, You see Boris was not exactly laughing and even though I am over 6’4” and about 200lbs. standing next to Boris, I look like an average guy. He is like 6’8” maybe more and the build to go with it, I did not want him to throw me like a lawn dart a ways down the beach so that is why I kept my laughter to myself.
That muck was awful, dad got stuck just as he reached our plane, after Boris and I got a hold of him, he was able to free himself from the quick sand type mud. With unlimited room on the river takeoff distance was no issue. Reaching cruising altitude Boris did us a favor and circled the area a couple times where dad shot at the big bull and looking down into the area we could see everything around except for a dead bull. It was a relief to know at least we didn’t miss him and he was wasting away but it just made the wound that much worse for my dad. It was a long flight back even when we sighted about 300 tundra swans flocking up for their annual fall journey to warmer weather.
Was great to see our friends from Tennessee waiting for us on the dock, especially the moose racks they had on display.
They went 3 out 4 with a couple in the 50” range but had a monster 64”, I rough scored him at 215 gross because they were trying to figure out if they wanted to split the rack or not, granted I am not an official scorer and told them but even if I was off by 10” that is still only 225 gross and you need 225” net for B&C minimum. He wasn’t a score type guy anyway so he had no issues cutting it apart…
After repacking our gear, moose meat and bear hide our return trip, the story swapping and laughter continued in the lodge for the evening to go along with our last mountain house meal.
We were first in line at the Bethel airport, I think those guys were taking up most of the storage with all of their gear and meat, they had a 1 ½ pickup loads, glad I wasn’t the one paying for their extra baggage fees…. Ours was bad enough with 5 checked bags between the two of us… Fog had settled in again, causing us to sit on the runway at Bethel for an hour causing us to only have a couple minutes to race off our plane in Anchorage and run down the terminal to our plane connecting us to Seattle. We all made it but with some worries about our gear. Later that evening seeing all of our bags in Denver sure was a relief. One negative was dad’s gun case was busted up but the guns and everything inside was ok.
Was not the ending or results we wanted or expected but I am happy with our hunt and glad I got to spend quality time with my dad in the wilderness of Alaska for the second time!
Thanks for everything you have done for me and with me over the years, we have created many memories that some people just won’t even dream about.
"Hunting is where you prove yourself"